One of West Africa’s most successful democracies, Senegal continues to be a role model for its political stability and steady economic growth. Hoping to further strengthen Senegal against future strongmen, President Macky Sall even championed a referendum in 2016 that curtailed presidential powers, shortening a president's time in office to a maximum of two consecutive terms, and shortening each term from seven to five years. Sall’s ambitious economic plan ‘Emerging Senegal’ has helped spur growth (reaching over 6% annually in both 2015 and 2016), with major investments in infrastructure, tourism and agriculture. Enormous challenges remain, not least creating opportunities for Senegal’s least fortunate – over 40% of the population still lives below the poverty line.
People & Culture
'A man with a mouth is never lost' goes a popular Wolof saying, and indeed, conversation is the key to local culture, and the key to conversation is a great sense of humour. The Senegalese love talking and teasing, and the better you slide into the conversational game, the easier you'll get around.
Personal life stories in Senegal tend to be brewed from a mix of traditional values, global influences, Muslim faith and family integration. More than 95% of the population is Muslim, and many of them belong to one of the Sufi brotherhoods that dominate religious life in Senegal. The most important brotherhood is that of the Mourides, founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba. The marabouts who lead these brotherhoods play a central role in social life and wield enormous political and economic power (possibly the power to make or break the country's leaders).
The dominant ethnic group is the Wolof (39% of the population), whose language is the country's lingua franca. Smaller groups include the Pular (around 27%), the Serer (15%), the Mandinka (4%) and the Diola (4%). Senegal's population is young: just over 40% are under 14 years old. The greatest population density is found in the urban areas of Dakar.
Senegal has a vast music scene; names such as Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal are famous worldwide. The beat that moves the nation is mbalax. Created from a mixture of Cuban music (hugely popular in Senegal in the 1960s) and traditional, fiery sabar drumming, mbalax was made famous by Youssou N'Dour in the 1980s.
Hip hop is also an exciting scene in Senegal, with leading names including Didier Awadi and Daara J. 'Urban folk', led by Carlou D, is on the rise.
Visual arts are also huge (and celebrated every two years during the Dak'Art Biennale). Leading artists include Soly Cissé, Souleymane Keita and Ndaary Lô. Moussa Sakho, Babacar Lô and Gora Mbengue are famous artists practising sous-verre (reverse-glass painting).
The doyen of Senegalese cinema is the late Ousmane Sembène, and there's a new generation producing exciting work today.
Senegal consists mainly of flat plains, cut by three major rivers: the Senegal River in the north, which forms the border with Mauritania; the Gambia River; and the Casamance River in the south, watering the lush green lands of Casamance.
The national parks of the coastal regions, including the Siné-Saloum Delta, the Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie and the Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj, are noted for their spectacular birdlife. Parc National de Niokolo-Koba has some large mammals, though they're hard to spot.
Overfishing, deforestation, desertification, and coastal erosion, largely caused by uncontrolled illegal sand mining, are the main environmental issues the country faces. The dwindling of fish stocks also threatens the economy.